(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!! Will she make it? Keep following the site to find out!)
The 1943 film Heaven Can Wait opens with a 70 year-old man named Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) stepping into an opulent drawing room and having a conversation with a refined but menacing man known as His Excellency (Laird Cregar). From their conversation, it quickly becomes obvious that Henry has recently died and His Excellency is in charge of Hell. Most people who come to see His Excellency do so because they want to argue that they do not belong in Hell and they usually end up falling through a convenient trap door. However, Henry is there to argue that, after living an enjoyable but dissolute life, he belongs in Hell.
Henry tells the story of his life. He tells how he was born into great wealth and influenced by his down-to-Earth grandfather (Charles Coburn). As a young man, he spent most of his time chasing after showgirls bur eventually, he met the beautiful and kind-hearted Martha (Gene Tierney). He immediately fell in love with Martha but, unfortunately for him, she was engaged to his cousin (Allyn Joslyn). Henry, however, used his considerable charm to convince her to elope with him.
(It helps, of course, that Henry’s cousin was totally and completely obnoxious, in the way that rival suitors often are in films like this.)
And, for 25 years, Henry was happy with Martha. It took him a while to settle down and, at one point, Martha even left him as a result of his affairs. However, they always got back together and Henry eventually did settle down, even going so far as to prevent his son from running off with a showgirl of his own. It was only after Martha herself died that Henry, who always felt he didn’t deserve her love, returned to his old ways.
And, Henry argues, it’s because he was unworthy of his wife that he deserves to spend an eternity in Hell. Does His Excellency agree?
Well, it would certainly be a depressing movie if he did.
One of the great things about TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar is that it gave me a chance to discover several films from director Ernst Lubitsch, films like The Smiling Lieutenant, The Love Parade, Ninotchka, and Heaven Can Wait. Of those four Lubitsch films, Heaven Can Wait is probably the least substantial but it’s still an undeniably entertaining and nicely romantic film. This is one of those films that you watch because the sets look wonderful, the costumes are to die for, and the performers are all pleasant to watch. It’s pure entertainment, a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.
In fact, tt was such a crowd-pleaser that it was nominated for best picture of the year. However, it lost to the ultimate crowd-pleaser, Casablanca.